One of the great privileges in my role as a Bishop is that I visit a large number of communities and see people doing amazing things in the service of others. I recently visited a unit established to help with the education of young people who, for a variety of reasons, do not flourish in conventional schools. Over the last few weeks, I visited a workshop which meets regularly to help silver-surfers develop and hone their computer skills. Over the summer, I spent some time with a group of people who were clearing a littered and silted-up river-bed to improve their community’s environment. Just a few weeks ago, I went out with some street pastors – volunteers who commit themselves on a regular basis to going out between 10pm and 4am to chat to, help and support late night revellers as they find their ways home after what, for some, may be a traumatic night out.
If we look around, we can, without too much effort, see an enormous amount of life and energy. Our communities are full of people of commitment, humour, generosity and self-giving who look to the needs of others before they look to their own needs. Even in the middle of the harsh financial climate, there is a lot of creative potential and there are some very impressive young people eager to play their part in shaping the future. The Olympics and Paralympics and the atmosphere they created lifted the curtain and showed what it can be like.
But pick up a newspaper, switch on the news, listen to the pronouncements of our politicians and we see a different picture. We see a society which is self-obsessed and ill at ease with itself. Negativity rules. The media and political establishment allow the negative parts of humanity, which undoubtedly exist, to become the default setting, driving our thinking and action. Overcoming the ‘economic’ crisis dominates everything. Economic managers have ousted leaders. We are reacting to events. Victimhood is regarded as a virtue. We forget the wise insight from the Bible that without a vision the people perish.
There is a battle for the soul of Britain. My hope and prayer for 2013 is that as we ring in the old year and ring out the new, the spirit of self-giving, putting the other first, generosity, commitment, humour and creative potential may challenge and oust the spirit of self-absorption and negativity. In wishing you every blessing for the New Year, I leave the final words to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘Ring out, wild bells’:
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.